A Muslim vis-à-vis His/Her Neighbors
Allah says in the Quran, “Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. Verily, Allah does not like such as are proud and boastful” (4:36).
Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good things or keep silent. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be courteous and generous to his neighbor.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said, “Gabriel kept advising me concerning the neighbor to the point that I thought he would inherit [from his neighbor].”
In another hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “By Allah, he is not a believer. By Allah, he is not a believer. By Allah, he is not a believer.” It was said to him, “Who is that, O Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)?” He said, “The one from whose affairs his neighbor is not safe.”
One time the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked about a woman who performed lots of prayers, fasted and gave charity but she used to harm her neighbor by her speech. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that she is in the Hell-fire. Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked about a woman who did not fast, pray or give in charity much [more than what was obligatory upon her] but she would not harm her neighbors. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that she is in Paradise.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also demonstrated specific ways by which one is generous or courteous to his neighbor. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) once said to Abu Dharr, “O Abu Dharr, when you prepare stew, increase its water and deliver it to some of your neighbors.”
Being courteous and generous to one’s neighbor includes helping him when they need assistance, visiting them when they are ill and general checking on their welfare. Abu Bakr al-Jazairi wrote,
One should demonstrate goodness towards one’s neighbor by: helping them when they seek help, assisting them if they seek assistance, visiting them when they fall ill, congratulating them if something pleasing occurs to them, giving them condolences upon afflictions, helping them if they are in need, being the first to greet them, being kind in speech to them, being gentle in one’s speech to the neighbor’s children, guiding them to what is best for their religion and worldly life, overlooking their mistakes, not attempting to look into their private matters, not constraining them with one’s building or renovations or along the walkway, and not harming them by letting one’s trash onto their property or in front of their household. All of those actions form part of the goodness that one is ordered to perform in Allah’s command [in the verse to be quoted shortly].
Living in non-Muslim environments, it is very important to recognize that the scholars have concluded that there are three types of neighbors: (a) a neighbor who is also a relative and a Muslim. This type of neighbor has three types of rights over the person (that of being a neighbor, a relative and a brother Muslim). (b) a neighbor who is not a relative but is a Muslim. This neighbor has two types of rights over the person. (c) a neighbor who is neither a relative nor a Muslim. This neighbor only has the right of a neighbor.7 Thus, even if a neighbor is a non-Muslim, that person has the right to a special relationship by virtue of being a neighbor.
The Permanent Committee for Scientific Research, Saudi Arabia, was asked about dealing with non-Muslim neighbors (accepting gifts from them and so on) and they stated in response:
Response: One should treat well those who treat him well from among them, even if he be a Christian. If they give you a permissible gift, you should respond in kind. The Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted a gift from the leader of the Romans who was a Christian. He also accepted a gift from a Jew. Allah says in the Quran, “Allah forbids you not to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and drove you not from your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity. It is only as regards those who fought against you on account of religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and helped to drive you out, Allah forbids you to befriend them. And whoever befriends them are the wrongdoers” (60:8-9).
Ibn Uthaimeen also stated, “There is no harm in meeting the needs of a disbeliever if it does not contain any action which is forbidden as the neighbors have rights upon one another and this might even be a reason for him to accept Islam.” Ibn Baaz also said, “[The Muslim] must be neighborly toward his non-Muslim neighbor. If your neighbor is good to you, you do not harm him and you may even give him charity if he is poor or give him a gift if he is rich. You may also advise him concerning what is good for him. All of this may lead him to want to learn about Islam and become a Muslim and because neighbors have very great rights.”
The spirit of neighborliness is something that has been lost in many cultures in the hustle and bustle of contemporary civilization. It would be excellent if Muslims, new converts or long-time Muslims, could revive this spirit and revive part of the religion of Islam.
Jammaal al-Din M. Zarabozo